Protecting Call Center Agents
Posted by butalidnl on 1 December 2010
On 20 November 2010, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed Senate Bill 2604, also known as the “Magna Carta for Call Center Workers Act of 2010,” to protect thousands of call center employees in the country. I believe that this bill is quite needed, and timely, especially with the rapid growth of Call Centers in the Philippines.
The bill will grant call center workers the following:
- the right to organize and join labor unions;
- the right to a safe and healthy working environment;
- the right to at least a one hour continuous meal break in the middle of every eight hour shift;
- the right to privacy;
- safety for night shift employees;
- the right to be informed of the terms and conditions of their contract.
Nurturing a Valuable Resource
I think the thread behind this law is that the Philippines has a growing Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, which is mainly composed of call centers at the moment; and that in order to ensure the continued growth of this industry, the country should treat its call center agents well. We need to nurture them as a valuable resource. The country has everything to lose if it treats Call Center Agents (CCAs) as if they were disposable, which is how some call centers treat them now. They are not. And, we should start treating them well now.
The very first thing that needs to be fixed are the CCAs’ working conditions. CCAs should be entitled to sufficient rest periods. I’m not that so sure about the one hour rest period in Santiago’s bill. There is no real “lunchtime” during the graveyard shift, after all. Perhaps shorter rest periods that are spread out may be better.
Call Centers often do not allow enough breaks, in an effort to maximize the time the agents spend on answering calls. But by doing so, the quality of the work of the agent is bound to suffer. Or that, through stress, the agent is burned out much quicker than otherwise.
Their work stations should be large enough to work in without too much stress. And the chairs and desks should be such that they will not cause too much strain on the neck and back of the workers. At the same time, the chairs and work stations shouldn’t be TOO comfortable, such that they will get sleepy.
If a safe and healthy working environment is not provided; this will result in a greater turnover of personnel, with many falling sick as a result of work.
And while call centers are still able to recruit new people to replace those who fall off, this will not be the case for much longer. The call center industry is expanding, and the country could ill afford qualified personnel dropping off. So it is imperative that call centers provide healthy working environments now.
Government Action Needed
Trying to press the maximum amount of work from their work force, call centers economize on the space per worker, and force workers to work long uninterrupted hours. And while this may be good for the short term for particular companies, in the long run this is bad for the industry as a whole. This calls for government action to ensure that a certain level of working conditions is maintained, since individual companies would not willingly do such things.
Even now, rather than improve the working conditions, companies resort to pirating call center agents from other companies with the promise of higher wages. But this is counterproductive for the industry as a whole.
It is not true that improving working conditions and increasing benefits will lessen our competitiveness in the world market. Our call center agents are still by far quite cheap for the quality of work they deliver. However, it may be true that the competitiveness of companies among each other may suffer if one gives benefits or better working conditions than the others. Thus, it is important for the government to step in; obliging the call centers to do things for the good of the industry, that they won’t be able to do alone.